berkeley food #18: downtown

2102 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 649-3810

Here’s another one I’ve been putting off. We’ve been to downtown now three times, the first of which was on my 25th birthday last year. We went again with Leslie’s parents, and then again with a group of friends on a whim.

Downtown was started by some chefs from Chez Panisse, and it shows in the food: it’s amazing. A couple of important differences for me are that the prices are a bit lower, and you can walk in nearly any day of the week and get a table without a reservation. The interior feels upscale… cloths on the table, careful lighting, usually a jazz band of some sort playing in the corner. It does make me feel a bit underdressed sometimes, but it is Berkeley after all; at least I have pants on.

I think of the food as being prepared by people with the skills and legacy (French, I guess) of Chez Panisse but without the strictures imposed by its ideology. That is, everything is delicious, soaked in butter, well-presented, etc, but the ingredients are not all local, the dishes change less frequently, and on the whole I would say the food feels more familiar. My most memorable entree was braised oxtail, which was so rich I think I could have survived for a week on each bite. The serve many things along these lines (duck confit, roasted chicken, heavy pastas), changing things up seasonally. The vegatables and sides are always inventive and sometimes end up the highpoint of the dish. Also, they do a good job with the beer than most upscale places, even serving one on draft from our favorite pub down the street, Triple Rock. Downtown also introduced us to Ayinger Ur-Weisse, which has become one of my favorite dark wheat beers. As usual I can’t comment on the wine list, but I’m sure it’s super-duper given the number of pages it has.

The bar gets great reviews on Yelp as well, with its variety of exotic liquor and oyster selection, but again I’m not qualified to comment.

I would say this is another great special occasion restaurant, where the occasion needn’t actually be all that special. A great place to go before a play or concert or something.

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